29 October 2010
The Belgian EU Presidency organised an Aviation Summit in Bruges, Belgium on 26 & 27 October 2010, to address the key issues facing the aviation industry. The Summit covered topics such as safety, security, infrastructure and the environment. However, re-establishing European competitiveness was the predominant theme throughout the event.

Secretary General of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, stated that the erosion of European competitiveness was a matter of fundamental concern, and that the proposed plan of action from the Belgian Presidency has found support from all sides – airlines, airports, manufacturers, unions and other EU bodies.

Virgin Atlantic CEO and next year’s Chairman of AEA (Association of European Airlines), Steve Ridgway, felt that Europe’s politicians are waking up to the importance of aviation for their citizens, and for their economies. A key priority for the participants was the need to improve European airspace management procedures. This was also made clear in the opening address of EU Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, who expressed his disappointment at the ongoing resistance towards the realisation of the Single European Sky (SES) programme.

Mr Schulte-Strathaus stated that European airlines are paying £2.6 billion unnecessarily for an inefficient air traffic management system. The absence of a SES creates 16 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions due to flying indirect routings. There is also concern that SES is not listed by the Commission in its top innovation projects when the broad economic and environmental impacts it represents are considered. Belgian Prime Minister, Yves Leterme, mentioned in his speech that the European aviation and air industry needed ambitious, multidimensional projects (such as Airbus or Galileo in the past) and that SES could meet the criteria.

The AEA Secretary General commended the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Secretary General, Raymond Benjamin, for his leadership in ensuring that ICAO, the UN body for aviation, will continue to be involved in the development of a global cap and trade scheme for CO2 emissions.

The EU Emissions Trading scheme (ETS) is a regional approach to a global issue said Mr Schulte-Strathaus, and therefore by definition distorts the market. Instead of disadvantaging European airlines, we must strive for a global consensus. It is believed that the current project set up does not recognise aviation’s global characteristics and will only result in a weakening of the European economy with no relevant impact on the environment.

The Summit Declaration calls upon a group of experts to identify the impact of the EU ETS and stipulates that further taxes on aviation will have the adverse effect of stifling the sector’s ability to compete against non-European competitors and investment in innovative technology.